Archived - Access to Information Guidelines - Organization

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1. The head

For the purposes of the Access to Information Act, the head of a government institution is the Minister for departments or the head designated by order in council for other institutions listed in Schedule I to the Act. The head of each institution is responsible for the administration of the Act, Regulations and policy within the institution and bears responsibility for the decisions which are taken.

2. Delegation orders

Section 73 of the Access to Information Act provides that the head of a government institution may by order designate one or more officers or employees of that institution to exercise or perform any of the powers, duties or functions of the head of the institution under this Act that are specified in the order.

When responsibilities are delegated from the head, institutions are required by policy to have in place a current Delegation Order signed by the head of the institution which stipulates the responsibilities delegated to particular officials.

The powers, duties and functions that may be delegated are listed in Chapter 3-1. There are two versions, one for a delegation to a single officer and one for a delegation to several officers, as best fits the situation. In addition, government institutions other than departments or ministries should note that the orders are drafted with ministers and departments in mind and that appropriate modifications should be made when drafting the delegation order.

These orders are statutory instruments as defined in the Statutory Instruments Act but they are not regulations, thus they do not have to be published in the Canada Gazette.

The orders should be processed and kept in a secure place ready to be produced to confirm any officer's authority to act under the Access to Information Act. Only ministries of state or persons who have been designated "head" under section 3 of the Act with respect to other government institutions are authorized to exercise the delegation. It is not necessary for a minister to delegate to his deputy minister since by virtue of the Interpretation Act the deputy minister can exercise the powers of the minister.

The orders remain in force upon the appointment of a new minister, but should be revised and reviewed at that time to obtain new authorization and to recognize the wishes of the new minister.

Government institutions should delegate the authority to approve exemptions according to the nature and volume of information requested. In order to avoid unnecessary complaints, reversals or defence of exemptions by the head of the institution and both to ensure the release of as much information as possible and to adequately protect from disclosure information which should be exempted, only senior officials should be authorized under section 73 of the Act to act on behalf of the head in making exemption decisions.

3. Authorization

Delegation orders provide authorization from the head of the institution to carry out specific duties under the Act. Public Service employees should be clearly informed of their specific obligations with respect to the Access to Information Act. In addition, a duly authorized government official who discloses information in good faith pursuant to the Access to Information Act will not be subject to prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. This is based both on the exoneration clause in section 74 of the Act and the fact that disclosure under the Access to Information Act will be considered to be authorized disclosure (the Official Secrets Act only applies to unauthorized disclosures of information).

4. The Access to Information Coordinator

Each institution is required, by policy, to designate an official known as the Access to Information Coordinator. This official should, at most, be no more than two levels removed from the deputy head. The Access to Information Coordinator is responsible on behalf of the head of the institution and the deputy head for ensuring compliance with the Act, Regulations and policy.

The duties may include:

  • developing, implementing and monitoring institutional policies, procedures and practices for administering the Act, including processing and tracking requests, ensuring adherence to legislative requirements and reporting to Parliament and the Designated Minister;
  • establishing a process aimed at accurate and timely response to requests;
  • training and development of all staff in the institution;
  • consultation with program managers, senior managers, legal counsel, Treasury Board Secretariat, Department of Justice and the Privy Council Office as necessary for the proper application of the legislation and policy;
  • production of the institution's input to the publications required by the legislation;
  • making decisions on requests where there is delegated authority to do so;
  • explaining institutional decisions on administration of the Act in investigations by the Information Commissioner and decisions on the granting or refusal of Access before the Federal Court;
  • preparing an annual report to Parliament in accordance with section 72 and paragraph 70(1)(d) of the Act;
  • aiding in the review of policy recommendations on issues related to the legislation.